I walked into the almost empty room, noting the somber expressions on once-familiar faces, and moved toward Joan, who had already taken her place by our son.
I took my steps carefully through the aisle, shaking a few hands along the way, until I reached for Joan’s freshly-lotioned hand and felt her squeeze mine back gently. I wondered if she took strength from me or gave it back.
Then I saw him. I would like to say that our eyes met, but his were, of course, closed. I placed my hand gently on his chest, ran my fingers down his tie as if to straighten it like I did when he was about twelve years old.
I could see us then, in front of the mirror at the old house by the lake, getting ready for Easter Sunday service. Joan and I had taken him to purchase his first real suit and tie, and I stood behind him and helped him learn the way to cross one end over the other and secure a Double Windsor knot. I taught him how to tuck the tail into his shirt as it was a little longer than needed. “Our secret,” I smiled as I put my finger to my lips and shared a laugh with him.
I wondered who had tied his tie today.
Joan looked over to me and dabbed my eye with a small, white handkerchief.
The caretaker…or whatever he was called…walked over toward us and quietly whispered, “Are you ready?”
Joan nodded for both of us, and I pulled my hand away from his tie, letting my fingers brush his cool hands. She stood by and held me around my waist, and I again wondered if her actions were for her benefit or my own. We took a step back together to make space for the man, and he carefully closed the top of the casket. Joan turned her face into my shoulder to muffle the sobbing sound coming from inside her.
The man placed familiar fabric over the top, a perfect stitching of white, blue, and the color of my son’s blood, spilt in the name of freedom.
Nineteen really is too young to die.